Port Everglades, on the US east coast, is considering plans to appoint a trade representative in the Pearl River Delta to boost cargo volumes between the region and southern Florida.
The port is the latest on the US east and Gulf coasts to confirm it is targeting Chinese and other Asian exporters, especially with the opening of the expanded Panama Canal in early 2015.
A team from rival Port Miami met more than 70 mainland companies and organisations in Beijing last week to promote plans to develop a bonded trade zone.
Michael Vanderbeek, Port Everglades' business development director, said the trade representative would be based in Hong Kong or Guangdong. He said the port already had a strong sister-port relationship with Xiamen Port Authority.
Vanderbeek, who joined the port in July from the Port of Long Beach, said Asia accounted for only about 7 per cent of Port Everglades' total cargo volumes.
"There is a lot of room for growth," he said. The port is investing US$500 million on infrastructure, including deepening the approach channel to more than 16 metres to make the port one of the deepest on the coast.
Vanderbeek said the port had strong export volumes, and to develop a better balance between inbound and outbound cargo, the port's "focus in Asia is more on imports than exports".
He said Port Everglades would be unable to compete directly with US west coast ports such as Los Angeles and Long Beach for time-sensitive cargo.
They did expect lower overall costs would enable them to pick up some of the less time-sensitive Asia-origin cargo bound for the southeast US markets that goes through the west coast, he added.
The port's cargo hinterland includes Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas and the Caribbean, depending on the type of cargo.
Vanderbeek said the port's main focus is on containerised cargo, although roll-on/roll-off ferry cargo, including vehicles, heavy engineering equipment and dry bulk cargo are all growth areas.
He said the expanded Panama Canal will also allow the port to have better access to non-Asian markets, such as the west coast of South America.
While the canal administration and Long Beach renewed a trade accord last week, Vanderbeek said the two Californian ports have growth caps as residents do not want to see port expansion and volume growth is limited by existing infrastructure.
He said the two ports would continue to grow for a while. "But as they grow, costs will continue to increase, as will community resistance to further growth. This will inevitably divert business to other gateways," added Vanderbeek, with Port Everglades and other US east and Gulf coast ports among those to benefit.